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Monday, April 15, 2024

Column: Tiger grader

You know Mr. Crocker from “The Fairly Odd Parents,” the evil teacher who enjoys giving out pop quizzes just so he can gleefully give out Fs for everyone? I like that guy! I’ve had a taste of giving people exams and grading their efforts. It tastes good. It tastes of power and domination … kind of like German food. I love knowing that in my hands I hold a piece of these students’ futures. Pass or fail, win or lose, live or die: The GPAs and bright futures of all those shining undergrads are mine to do with as I please. The class is afraid of me: I have seen its true face. The accumulated anxiety of all their missed homework and sleeping in class will foam up about their waists, and all the slackers and procrastinators will look up and shout, “Grade us on a curve!”… and I’ll whisper, “No extensions.”

Then my delusions of grandeur fade away and I give everyone an A, give or take a grade point, and go home and cry into a bowl of ramen.

OK, the truth is I’m actually a benevolent T.A. that wants his students to get As, because that means they were taught well. I grade responsibly, giving students the score I feel they deserve. For some exams, especially when the professor has already dictated how many points to take off for what type of offense (“One bone broken for each taxonomic family misidentified”), grading is easy. For other assignments, like essays, grades are more subjective. I’ve come to realize that the spread of grades on such projects is often highly dependent on the grader. Poor students always score less than the exceptional ones, but the range between the highest and lowest scores will change.

I once T.A.-ed a class where the final project, a PowerPoint, was graded in a group: Besides the instructor, the students and any available grad students also graded, with the idea being to simulate a symposium talk. Boy, some people were really picky! There was much variation, with some graders deducting points for minor offenses while others being more lax. I thought I was being harsh on those who deserved it, but overall I was actually quite generous with the grades and consistently gave everyone higher scores than the average.

In case you’re wondering, I’m on a fellowship now and won’t be T.A.-ing any classes ever again. Nice try, though.

My baseline grading may be generous, but if there’s one thing I don’t plan on doing once I become a professor it’s changing my grading system to accommodate the lazy or the self-entitled. You know who you are! If the question “Will this be graded on a curve?” has ever left your lips, then I have no sympathy for you. Why should I curve? What does that even mean? Seriously, I never bothered to look up the definition of that phrase until a few minutes ago, and now that I know what it means I like it even less. Curving is done only if the grade distribution deviates from the expected; it is NOT decided on before the test is given. Even so, why should you care? The maximum score is an A or A+, so that is the score you should strive for. If the test is curved will you study less or something? Where’s your work ethic? You should always strive for perfection! Like me!

The worst are the grade grubbers. They want perfect scores; they just can’t get them. Instead of asking why they got points deducted so they can learn and improve next time, they find reasons why they should get those points back now. Pre-meds and pre-vets are universally the worst offenders, hunting bonus points like pigs hunt truffles. What’s that? You need an A to get into Johns Hopkins so you’re nagging me for two extra points? No points for you! Only Fs! What’s that? You got a C- but you really, really want an A? Know what you get? F-! What’s that on your exam? Is it a D? Is it an E? No, it’s Super F! Fs for everyone! Bwahahaha!

MATAN SHELOMI uses red pens to grade: If your self-esteem can’t handle that, e-mail mshelomi@ucdavis.edu and he’ll gladly explain why you’re too dumb for vet school. Ooh, burn!

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